Benjamin Weeks trial begins for Carbondale armed robbery, manhunt
Attorneys made brief opening statements Wednesday on the second day of the Benjamin Weeks trial, in which the 20-year-old is accused of the armed robbery of a Carbondale gas station in February.
Prosecutors said that Weeks, from California, and his Roaring Fork Valley cousin, Nicholas Ameral, robbed the Carbondale Cowen Center at gunpoint in February, and in the following days led police on a two-day manhunt as they evaded law enforcement in the hills around Basalt. The two cousins were apprehended after spending a winter night in the open with basically no warm gear, and both suffered exposure-related injuries.
Weeks faces six counts in total: four counts of aggravated robbery and two counts of menacing, all felonies. Prosecutors have before identified Weeks as the one holding the gun during the robbery.
Separate from this Garfield County case, Weeks also is charged with first-degree murder in a Las Vegas homicide from January 2016, for which extradition issues still are being worked out.
Most importantly, this is a case about the two employees working at the Cowen Center that day, the moments of fear they experienced as the two masked men robbed them at gunpoint, Deputy District Attorney Zac Parsons said Wednesday.
Parsons told the jury to pay close attention to the evidence, to video surveillance that captured Ameral prior to the robbery, to the clothing he was wearing at that time and the clothing seen on one of the robbers in later surveillance footage.
The prosecutor also showed stills from video footage on a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus, which they said Weeks and Ameral leapt from to flee authorities. He also showed a still shot of Ameral’s mother’s home, which Parson’s called a critical place, where investigators found a 9 mm Glock pistol with an extended magazine in a crawl space. Ameral had been staying at the home, and his cousin Weeks had been invited to stay there as well, the deputy district attorney said.
“At the end of the day, this case is about common sense,” Parsons said.
The defense’s opening statement was even more succinct, and defense attorney Chip McCrory did not hint at what strategy he plans to employ.
On Feb. 16, the Valero store was stuck up by two people, McCrory said. “One was Nicholas Ameral; the other person is the question you will have as the jury in this case.”
The defense submits that after seeing all the evidence presented in this case, jurors will discover the defendant is not guilty.
Ameral pleaded guilty to felony aggravated robbery in July and was sentenced to six years in prison. During Ameral’s sentencing hearing in July, prosecutors said he will be subpoenaed to testify in his cousin’s trial.
Jury selection in Weeks’ trial took nearly two full days, but a jury of 14, including two alternates, was sworn in Wednesday afternoon. The trial is scheduled to run 10 days.
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The second defendant in a Basalt assault case has reached a plea disposition with the District Attorney’s Office. Daniel Wettstein could face anything from probation to six years in prison.